Symptoms and Solutions for Low Stomach Acid
“To eat is human, to digest is divine”. These words were uttered by the famous American writer, Mark Twain (1835-1910) and how true they are. Even the most nutritious food will not nourish the body if it cannot be assimilated. Efficient digestion is absolutely fundamental to good health.
The Function of Stomach Acid
The stomach plays a vital role early on in the digestive process, by providing an acid medium in which to break down protein and extract minerals such as iron and calcium from food. It also releases vitamin B12 from food. In addition to being a digestive aid in its own right, stomach acid sets the right pH for the pancreas to release its digestive enzymes. If the pH is too alkaline in the stomach the pancreatic enzymes will not be able to function.
Even though the stomach secretes acid and enzymes which are powerful enough to break down heavy animal proteins, when the stomach is healthy, its lining remains intact due to the protective mucous layer coating its surface. Ulceration of the stomach occurs when the lining breaks down and not, as is commonly suggested, due to excessive production of stomach acid. Too often I hear from clients who have been taking antacid pills, sometimes over a long time period. Not only have their symptoms not improved but they often feel worse. Medications that shut down the production of stomach acid often cause more problems than they solve because without adequate acid, digestion is severely compromised, leading to bloating and increased risk of stomach bugs.
In addition to its digestive function, stomach acid performs an immune related function because it destroys unhealthy bacteria and prevents them entering the intestines.
What are the Symptoms of Low Stomach Acid?
Low stomach acid leads to incompletely digested food particles in the intestines that irritate the delicate lining of the intestinal wall. Low stomach acid is relatively common, particularly as we age; 50% of people over 60 have low stomach acid.
Symptoms in which low stomach acid is likely to be a factor, are abdominal bloating or excess fullness immediately after eating, belching, burping or vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, food intolerances, undigested food in stools, yeast overgrowth (candida), iron deficiency, intestinal parasites, skin rashes, acne, anal itching, peeling or cracking fingernails, bacterial overgrowth of the small intestine, mineral deficiencies and B12 deficiency. People with gluten allergy/intolerance often have low stomach acid.
Sub optimal stomach acid affects absorption of iron, calcium and B12, leading to deficiencies of these nutrients.
Stomach Acid and Stress
Being stressed is often associated with increased stomach acid. Studies don’t generally confirm this. Stress weakens the protective lining of the stomach. This produces a feeling of excess acid, when in fact levels are normal or actually too low, but the stomach becomes sensitive to the acid, causing discomfort.
Natural Solutions for Supporting Healthy Levels of Stomach Acid
Apple Cider Vinegar
This is a natural home remedy for supporting digestion and creating the right acid alkaline balance. Use in salad dressings or put 3 teaspoons into a cup of lukewarm or boiling water and sip, during and after a meal. It’s important to get raw, unpasteurised cider vinegar which will be slightly cloudy. The Higher Nature vinegar below is naturally fermented and not filtered or pasteurised which means it contains a substance called ‘mother’. This is why it is a cloudy colour instead of clear. It is ‘raw’ and contains the beneficial bacteria, trace minerals and enzymes which are inactivated in the pasteurised vinegar. If you experience any discomfort stop taking it immediately. You shouldn’t take cider vinegar if you have stomach ulcers; your GP should always be the first option if you are experiencing any pain or discomfort.
Slippery Elm Ulmus rubra ulmaceae
- Slippery elm is a wonderful soothing herb for the digestive tract and a nutritious food in its own right. It is known as a mucilaginous herb which soothes and coats irritated membranes, promoting healing. Slippery elm brings immediate relief to acid discomfort and it is useful for weak or hyper-sensitive digestion. Slippery elm comes in capsule or powder form and is best taken in between meals or just before a meal. The powder mixed into lukewarm water is ideal, if you don’t mind the slightly gloopy consistency!
Include soups and green juices or green smoothies (adding ginger according to ancient Chinese medicine helps enhance the digestive process). Whilst fibre is beneficial, sensitive individuals can only tolerate small amounts before bloating occurs. Plant fibre is not designed to be digested and absorbed in the human intestine. Juices have most of the fibre extracted from them. Smoothies contain all the fibre but it is blended into tiny particles. The nutrients in soups and juices are easily assimilated by the body.
Digestion begins in the mouth. Chewing as an action lasts just 20-30 seconds yet it is absolutely vital to the digestive process. Chewing thoroughly will take some of the pressure off the stomach. A good tip is to put the knife and fork down after each mouthful and only pick them up again when full chewing has taken place!
Finally, the digestive process is incredibly sensitive to emotional and environmental influences. Eat in as relaxed an atmosphere as possible and focus fully on the food.
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